I had a little bird, Its name was Enza. I opened the window And in flew Enza!
– children’s street rhyme
It was late in October 1918 that the influenza pandemic that was sweeping the world reached its worst. In St Margarets, as throughout the country, large numbers were dangerously ill and deaths were frequent. On evening of the 2nd November 1918 Alfred Keeling died from double pneumonia following influenza. Until recently he had been the assistant curate at All Souls Church in north St Margarets and they missed him…
“His self-sacrificing love for boys has been a marked feature of his work; now that same love has prompted the greatest sacrifice of all. May God grant him the reward he has so nobly earned.”
During the same month six other young people in the same parish were to die from the disease. They were just part of the millions who were to die from influenza worldwide. During 1918/19 a quarter of the British population were affected. With mortality rates estimated to be between 10% to 20% of those infected the total death toll in the UK was around 228,000. In the Richmond district over 35 apparently healthy people had died from the virus in October alone. Symptoms were so unusual and so appalling that the disease was often misdiagnosed as bacterial pneumonia, cholera, dengue and typhoid. One observer wrote, “One of the most striking of the complications was haemorrhage from mucous membranes, especially from the nose, stomach, and intestine. Bleeding from the mouth, ears and haemorrhages in the skin also occurred.”
Added to the thousands of people who had died at home there were thousands more who had perished in the trenches, a perfect breeding ground for the disease. Local papers and parish magazines were full of it…
“To the list of 76 men who have made the supreme sacrifice must be added five more names. Cyril Tom Cuthbert Keene has died from wounds and Horace Henry Kesby and Laurence Sealy have been killed in action… Frederick Reginald Tyler and Joseph William George Denton have died from illness contracted on Active Service…”
That unnamed ‘illness contacted on Active Service’ was the calling card for Influenza, better known as the Spanish Flu, a disease that spread across the globe from the high Arctic to the vastness of the South Pacific. It overwhelmed every continent apart from Australia which had sensibly and swiftly introduced a strict quarantine on any ship visiting its shores.
THE SPANISH FLU
During the course of the Great War newspapers, unaware of the approaching pandemic, were reluctant to increase anxiety by reporting the steadily increasing number of domestic deaths. There were enough reportable deaths already coming in from the trenches. Only Spain, a neutral country not worried about casualties or falling behind with war production was willing to report the spread of influenza, and this gave governments around the world the opportunity to place the source and responsibility for the disease in Spain - and so it became Spanish Flu.
Britain was slow on the uptake, handicapped no doubt by the complexity of the disease and ignorance of its causes. On Saturday 16th November, 5 days after the Armistice the Government in the shape of the Public Health Committee acted…
PUBLIC HEALTH COMMITTEE SPOKESPERSON
“We have decided that cases of influenza complicated by pneumonia and other serious diseases will be made notifiable - and that Health Visitors are to assist in the nursing of patients. All doctors and district nurses are to be circularised and that Council Ambulances are to be available to convey cases to hospital.”
The‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’ was also beginning to wake up to the medical crisis that was sweeping our communities, applauding the local health staff who were applying themselves to the problem, often at great risk to their own lives…
“We must pay tribute to our local doctors who have worked night and day with the most self-sacrificing energy during this strenuous time. They have well earned the thanks of the whole community.”…
…and publishing cheery advice on avoiding its deadly effects…
“Don’t worry! Get into the open air as much as possible! Moping over possible illness leads to morbidity and lowers the repellent forces of the system.”
Before it had completed its grim progress at the end of 1920 Influenza would go on to kill between 50 and 100 million people around the world.
But mankind had suffered at a great cost. All over the world with millions of lives lost . The pandemic was now over, survivors started to thrive. But were mournful of the millions who did not survive.
– Tom Cunningham - ‘1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic’
Monday, 11th November 1918
The Armistice of November 1918 and the years that immediately followed were a confused and perplexing time for the people of this country. There was clear relief and joy that the great slaughter was over and the boys were coming home but at the same time there was nationwide disquiet about those who weren’t coming home and how they might be remembered. The women who had driven war production, supporting the soldiers at the front, were demanding the vote and the soldiers at the front now wanted their old jobs back. There were promises of houses to be built - homes for heroes - and aggressive calls for improved wages and pensions.
The world was turning on its axis and as the nation moved towards the 1920’s the watchword was indulgence The young were turning their back on old pre-War values, attitudes and aspirations. There was a new mood in the air. Technology had brought jazz and films from America and new fashion styles from France for the young and free. Everything was in motion. Gas power was going, replaced by electricity, horse power by the petrol engine. Old people flew and young people flivered and flirted.
What was to come next? Nobody really knew and nobody really cared. Minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past had consumed everyone’s whole consciousness. The present did not exist - and the inconceivable future was being made up on the spot.
On the afternoon of Sunday 11th November, the precise 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the North St Margarets Residents’ Association will be marking this exhilarating and exciting time when ‘War’ became ‘Whoopee’ with a celebration of songs and stories in All Souls Church in Northcote Road. Even though the tears were still falling, out on the dance floor the jazz band was beginning its first number…
– from Martyn Day